Significant economic opportunity in bioprospecting especially for the extremeophiles that can withstand extreme environments
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In this context, marine species and microorganisms that have evolved to exist in extreme environments, so-called "extremophiles," are of particular interest. Such environments and habitats include the deep sea, as well as in the vicinity of seamounts, hydrothermal vents, methane seeps. Such features have been discovered on the extended continental shelf. Organisms living here have adapted to survive in the complete absence of light, in conditions of extremely high pressure, in either low or very high (for example in the vicinity of a hot water vent) temperatures, or in environments characterised by extreme salinity or acidity.
This has led to the emergence of "bioprospecting" and the deep seabed, including outer continental shelf areas, are likely to be a focus for these activities. This represents a potentially rich resource and opportunity for coastal states. Indeed, marine biotechnology-related products were estimated to be worth $100 billion (USD) in the year 2000 alone.86 The potential for further growth in marine bioprospecting is emphasised by the fact that around 1,000 new marine natural products are reported annually. This points to how biodiversity-rich yet under-explored and thus little known the oceans are. Indeed, it has been suggested that the oceans are ninety-five percent unexplored." Moreover, the number of ocean-dwelling species has been estimated at around ten million-a figure fifty times greater than the number of marine species reported thus far. In this context, deepwater areas hold particular promise as they are likely to host unique extremophiles and also because these areas are least explored, notwithstanding considerable advances in technologies applicable to exploring deep sea areas made in recent decades. This is illustrated by the fact that of over 30,000 marine natural products reported since the 1960s, less than two percent derive from the deep sea organisms.89